[X-men] Cyclops was right

(no subject)

I was walking down the corridor to my office door, thinking about who I am, when the realization hit me.

I'm having a mid-life crisis.

Mind you that I suspect it's fair game, or at least gamely fair, to question one's direction at the age of 31. Or any age, really. So I'd like to argue that it wasn't really a mid-life crisis, per se, in so much as it was an evaluation of my direction in life. And of my intention in life.
[X-Men] UXF Wolvie


Hello Lj.

It's been a while. I hadn't realized just how long it's been until I had a bit of a wake up call last month. I'm going to make an effort to post here. Y'all reading this (?)can help me by commenting if you have anything to add.

* I literally cannot believe we're already in the latter part of October SECOND WEEK OF NOVEMBER. I truly don't understand how the passage of time seems to be building this deafening momentum, but it feels like we're all racing much too rapidly towards geriatry. That might simply be the fear of my impending 30th birthday speaking. At the time of writing I am exactly one month from the gay death.

* I spent an entire lunch period today talking about american football. I wasn't so upset about it by virtue of it having been a sports conversation, I was upset because I thought I didn't like football. Now it turns out I kinda do. My fear is that I am slowly growing to like ALL sports and that by 2015 I'll be following Golf scores.

* I am really enjoying comics books right now, but I am going to save the paragraph I just wrote about that for another day. It's basically half a post already. SUPER impresssed by the #1s of both Wolverine and the X-Men and Uncanny X-Men, though.

* Same as above regarding music. My goto record right now is Saul Williams' Volcanic Sunlight.

* I was Parks and Recs' Ron Swanson for Halloween. It was pretty much awesome.
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  • Current Music
    Florence + The Machine - Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)
[X-men] Cyclops was right

(no subject)

Sometimes I write about games. Usually this is in a reasonably straightforward fashion. This is not one of those times. This is a little bit more like this: http://suedeheadspike.livejournal.com/285103.html. Because if you didn't want a lol with your game review, you'd be looking at meta-critic.

I finished Kingdom Hearts re:Coded last Friday. It was pretty neat. But probably I should say more than that.


I want to start by pointing out that the last Kingdom Hearts game to've been released in the US, was the stellar Birth By Sleep. It merits mentions by virtue of the fact that Birth by Sleep is really the series' highpoint with regard to gameplay, graphics, sound design and plot. Frankly, Birth by Sleep is one of the best games I've ever played. Why do I bring that up is this, a review of Kingdom Hearts re:coded? Because compared to Birth by Sleep, even the PS2 entires in this series can seem a step behind.

Contrasting re:Coded with 358/2 Days, the previous Kingdom Hearts game on the DS platform, makes a little bit more sense for a variety of reasons. Among them being that if you're a Kingdom Hearts fan and you own a DS, being disappointed by that game is the most likely reason you're not already playing re:Coded. Luckily, as a game, re:coded succeeds in almost every way that 358/2 failed. This fact is doubly impressive when you consider that it's a remake of a cellphone game that, as a direct consequence of the story, reuses assets, plot and dialogue from previous games in the series.

The gameplay is better than 358/2 Days!

Like the aforementioned 358/2 Days, re:Coded suffers from being an adaptation of a franchise that originated on a console with several more buttons on it's controller than the DS possesses. However, as the original Coded was a cellphone game, the sequences that would have suffered the most (boss battles, mostly) take a bit of a different tack. Rather than being played from the series-standard 'behind the player' 3rd person camera, re:coded is structered so that after you've completed the 'questploration' phase of any of the 6 in-game worlds, you enter a new phase based around varying gimmicks determined by which world you're in. The Olympus world, for example, sees you teaming up with Cloud Strife from FFVII and fighting turn based battles in the style of that game against the heartless there.

Nearly every world you visit has a gimmick of some kind, and most of them are quite effective. One of the later worlds in particular has a gimmick based around another Kingdom Hearts game (how meta!) that led to one of the most personally-fulfilling moments I've had with the Kingdom Hearts series' plot. I suppose I should also mentioned that there was one that I had a great deal of trouble with, a Space Harrier clone that was quite fun to start, but it got a bit too hard on the setting I was playing. This should have been remedied, but the game's enormous set of customization features threw me a bit under the bus by design. My the time I did manage to clear it, I came within inches of giving up on the game.

Options, options everywhere but not a toggle to switch.

So after a statement like that, I wouldn't fault you for thinking that re:coded must be a supremely hard game, but actually Kingdom Hearts re:coded is only as hard as you want it to be. Via a mechanic known as the circuit board, and born from the magnificent The World End With You, re:coded lets you configure such things as Sora's max HP, enemy HP, enemy strength and overall difficulty from within your characters status screens. There are various in-game bonuses afforded by playing the game with the hardest settings cranked up, in the form better loot and more munny; but in a really surprising choice, you can unlock everything in the game without ever cranking the toughness up. Even the secret ending can be unlocked on the easiest settings this time around. It's a wonderful marriage of convenience for those that want to play the game without being overwhelmed and challenge for those that crave it.

Unfortunately, you can't access these menus mid-battle or event... so if you start an event with the difficulty settings too high, you're pretty much forced to keep replaying that battle or event until you luck into victory, or restart from your last game save. It's not a dealbreaker exactly, but it's a really questionable design choice in a game that's obviously gone to great lengths to keep things accessible.

Better looking than a cellphone port should be.

(Image from IGN)

... Hikari/Simple & Clean. Again?

Everyone's Sora!

No, actually, the story might be the only way in which I found 358/2 to be better than re:Coded.

In 358/2, the payoff to the story was getting to know who Roxas was, and understand why the first four hours of Kingdom Hearts 2 is really, really sad, and why the music in Twilight Town is so meloncholy. It's brilliant, and understated in a really satisfying way. While 358/2 has a fair share of problems as a game, I really do view it as an integral part of the KH canon for the sake of its story.

In re:Coded, on the other hand, the payoff is that we get to know what was in the letter King Mickey sent to Sora at the end of Kingdom Hearts 2.* Theres also a lot of really cool dialgoue between Sora and his various allies from the different worlds, and then there's a really great scene with Sora and Roxas where Roxas explains to Sora what he gave up in reintegrating with Sora. ....except since these conversations all take place between Data-Sora and his Data-Friends, so there doesn't appear to be any real payoff to these interactions. Maybe in a future game Sora can go into Space Paranoids (Dear Squeenix, please do a Space Paranoids world for Tron : Legacy in KH 3. ty bbs) and download Data-Sora's experiences... but for now it's a bit like getting blue balled.


So, it occurs to me that I could probably just make a chart to sum up this review. It would be called 'Aspects in which re:Coded is better than 358/2,' but then I'd have to do a companion chart called 'Aspect in which Birth by Sleep is the absolute best Kingdom Hearts game in the Series,' and that would be a downer. In truth, I really enjoyed re:Coded, despite its unfulfilling plot, and the momentary instances of what I found to be fucking terrible game design.

The variety of gameplay in each of the worlds eases the monotony of playing through Wonderland on Olympus for the 358/2nd time and the debugging mode, with it's wagering mechanic, is actually quite fun.

As I mentioned before, Birth by Sleep set the bar for the Kingdom Hearts series really quite high, and while re:Coded didn't quite live up to that standard, it was an interesting experience that improved apon just about every aspect of the last Kingdom Hearts game on this platform. Ultimately I'm glad to have played it, and the hidden ending (a franchise mainstay) has me already ready for the next Kingdom Hearts adventure.


* This is the complaint meme about Kingdom Hearts. Of course, since like 5 characters are Sora, or some aspect of him, or were at some point a part of his being/hidden away in his heart..... it's hard to argue.

* (spoiler- Ventus, Terra and Aqua are in danger, girl; and since them bitches done gave Sora the power to wield the Keyblade in the first place, per Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, it's about time for him to nut up and save them.)

* http://ds.ign.com/dor/objects/14354710/kingdom-hearts-recoded/images/kingdom-hearts-recoded-dated-in-japan-20100720092956108.html
[X-men] Cyclops was right


Every year I do a list of favorites. Of course, none of my selections are generally regarded in any given year as being very good, and I am confident that this tradition will continue, as this year is no different.
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Honorable Mention
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Here are some youtubes of key tracks off both lists for the curious.
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1 Janelle Monae - Cold War

... beautiful, stunning, flawless, goddess, etc.
[X-men] Cyclops was right

A Thing That (Seriously) Happened to Me Today.

So, I dance. Probably more than you know.

It comes out in little ways, a shimmy and/or a shake to the errant bassline from a passing tricked-out sedan, or perhaps a bobbing of the head and a swing of the hips to a remembered melody as I rummage through the kitchen cupboard for a packet of fresh chips.

Either way, I dance. You might even be aware of this if you've spend much time in my company, ever. It is apparently noticeable, and happens in public, without even the slightest of considerations on my part.

And so today, as I waited for my exquisite smelling (and tasting, I would later find-) sandwich, I found myself finding my groove at a Subway shop to the radiowave delivery of Telephone. Reasonably, I think you'll find(*1), given as the song is quite agreeable- even if not exactly good.

It was at a particular part in the song, you might know it(*2), where Ms. Jigga informs us as to how busy she kinda is, and I did her vogue from the video. This was probably, almost assuredly, absolutely absurdly, perfectly gay. But in an alright sort of way, since I work in San Francisco. I might get a sideways glance, but nothing to sweat over- if not for the empowered, strong, pretty young thing to my right, waiting behind me for my custom-made sub to finish toasting.

She, she responded in what follows logically only now in hindsight- she began to sing along, and busted out the dance routine in a way such as to humble an amateur like myself.

Yes, today I was in my first fierce-off.(*3)

And, so, facing the utter absurdity of the petite haute chic young doll, I did the absolutely only thing I possibly could do when faced with an expert dancer in a very public Subway on the corner of a well-traversed intersection- I danced right back at her. For 30 seconds.

I matched the video as well as I could, and she followed my lead (if one should be so generous to call it that-) and we only stopped when the attending sandwich artiste, bewildered at the nigh-insanity facing her, stopped me to ask what kind of vegetables I wanted. I let her know(*4) and prepared to pay.

It was when the sandwich witch wrapped my sub that the songstress aggressor commented on the appearance of my sub. It looked like bacon, and she thought it looked delicious (and it was, as I said before(*5).) She wanted one, and for me to have a good day in addition.

And so it went, that I left the sandwich shop. A little wiser, a little weirder, and with one hell of a spring in my step. Because I didn't win, but I don't think I lost, either.

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[X-men] Cyclops was right

2009 Lists - Music

Every year I do a list of favorites. This year is no different.

Most of my selections are generally regarded each year as not very good. I am confident that this tradition will continue. But in my defense, Leave a Scar TOTALLY sounds like a long lost T-Rex cut off of Electric Warrior and I am gay for glam rock. Anyway, I've listened to all of these albums more than 50 times each in their entireties if my iPod's play count is to be believed. I am very fond of them.

The Honorable Mentions are only such because frankly, I think 2009 was an AMAZING year in music. ... and because Alter the Ending had a pretty great bonus disc of acoustic versions of every song... which actually made them palatable... as opposed to the crap that band typically puts out these days.

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Here are some youtubes of key tracks for the curious.

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And then my favorite 25 songs this year. This list is HELLA sketchier- because the very nature of liked songs can be pretty fluid. But seriously, fuck Fireflies- Tip of the Iceberg is proof that Owl City has potential to be pretty great. And I might not be into Utada's newest english language record, but hell yes Apple and Cinnamon. Tori Amos dipping her feet into trip hop is always a pleasure, moreso when she does so while letting her piano be heard. Also: Animal Collective's My Girls and Grizzly Bear's Two Weeks really are two of the best songs I heard this year. But their respective ablems did remarkably little for me- I do NOT get the near universal praise.

The honorable mentions are a mix of guilty pleasure and things that came out this week. Time will tell if I still think the new Smashing Pumpkins is amazing in 2010.

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[X-men] Cyclops was right

Review- Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (Episodes 1, 2 & 3)

It's been nearly 18 years since Cecil, Rosa and Kain made their mark on the RPG world in Final Fantasy IV. Now their adventures continue in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, an episodic cellphone port for WiiWare. But is this a welcome visit with old friends, or exploitative effort by SquareEnix to turn over a quick profit?

Read on for my review of the first three episodes below.


Final Fantasy IV: The After Years' plot concerns the coming of age of Ceodore, the prince of the kingdom Baron and child of Cecil and Rosa- the heroes of Final Fantasy IV who've become the King and Queen of their land in the 17 years since their original adventure. The stage is set for us as Ceodore speaks to the servicemen administering his rite of passage into knighthood in a direct tribute to the opening sequence of Final Fantasy IV. The plot wouldn't be very interesting without conflict, however, and soon Ceodore's craft has crashed and the kingdom is in flames, a mysterious woman with blue hair assumes rule of the land as the second moon from FFIV suddenly reappears in the sky after having been gone since the events of the first game.

The first thing Final Fantasy IV veterans are likely to notice upon playing FFIV:TAY is that much of what's on offer here looks almost exactly as it did in the SNES original; city, castle and overworld layouts are identical to what was featured 18 years ago, and there's also a great deal of reused sprites and music in this new game- though the art and music that are unique to this release are great and mesh seamlessly with the recycled content.

One thing that did receive a substantial upgrade was the combat. While battles are still encountered randomly per the norm of older Final Fantasy games, and they still employ the ATB battle system pioneered original in Final Fantasy IV- characters with strong storyline ties to each other can now combine their abilities to perform more powerful attacks for a minimal MP cost, via the 'Band' system. Unlike Chrono Trigger's similar sounding DualTech system, however, in FFIV:TAY players are left to explore and experiment with their characters to try and find these powerful combinations on their own, with ineffective pairings resulting in lost opportunities to act during battle. While I was initially frustrated by the mechanic of losing turns, once my party grew in number and a familiar face joined Ceodore, I began to enjoy finding new Band attacks.

Another addition is the 'Moon Phase' system, which reflects the setting of the game by having different actions in battle become more or less effective based on the waxing or waning of the second moon. While I felt reticent about what sounded like an unnecessary complication to the game, I was quickly won over by how well laid out this information is during battle (while the moon is decreasing the effectiveness of an ability, it appears in red text; when an ability is increased it appears on your menu in green text-) and the changing state of your abilities prevents random battles from degenerating into a series of mindless button mashing.

Following that, it's also worth noting that the difficulty of FFIV:TAY is based on the difficulty of the original japanese release of Final Fantasy IV, so players that haven't revisited that game since the much easier US version might be taken by surprise. It's not uncommon to lose against bosses during your first encounters with them; and a failure to properly conserve your MP while traversing dungeons may result in your being unable to cast much-needed healing spells between save points. Players that have endured the grueling 2008 DS remake of the original FFIV will be better prepared.

Ultimately, it's difficult for me to review Final Fantasy IV: The After Years fairly. On one hand, it's the sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, with an engaging plot that I'm really looking forward to seeing unravel. I really enjoyed seeing how the years have changed the original adventurers, and Ceodore is a compelling character. In addition, the various nods to the original game really did make for a strangely pleasant sense of nostalgia. On the other hand, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is being released episodically, with 3 new chapters hitting each month through September, and in the end it's going to cost quite a bit more money than the usual download game. Add to that the fact that it's a barely-upgraded port of a cellphone game, and one might be inclined to call SquareEnix out for shenanigans.

However, if you fondly remember Final Fantasy IV and would enjoy seeing how everyone's doing, I'd give this game the highest possible recommendation. Further from that, if you think you might enjoy going back to a style of RPG where random encounters were a way of life and the conservation of MP was a critial gameplay technique, you'd be well-served in giving this game a try.

Report Card:


Exceeds Expectations:

+ Great story. I enjoyed seeing where characters from the first game ended up, and am excited to see how the larger plot will culminate.
+ New mechanics. The 'Moon Phase' and 'Band' systems freshen up the stalwart APB system and bring new life to the series' standard turn-based battles.
+ Optional content. Optional dungeons and rare loot drops in each chapter potentially extend each gameplay segment by several hours.
+ Challenge. Keeping with the original japanese release of Final Fantasy IV, it's unlikely that you'll make it through these adventures without a few game overs. Luckily, opportunities to save are plentiful and the game telegraphs pretty clearly what is expected from players.

Needs Improvement:

- Episodic. Not only will this downloadable title cost $37 by the time it's complete, it's a bit jarring for the game narrative to be interrupted ever 3-4 hours as the chapter you're playing comes to a close. This frustration is increased by the current unavailability of chapters 4 and up.
- Recycling. The new art and sound assets are great, but sadly the vast majority of the game is presented via questionably resampled sprites and music.
[X-men] Cyclops was right

Monster Hunter Freedom UNITE (Demo Impressions)

Thursday's PSN update finally saw the release of a demo for Monster Hunter Freedom UNITE, Capcom's attempt at bringing Japanese cash-cow Monster Hunter Portable G2 to the western regions.

Does UNITE look to have what it takes to set the US PSP sales charts aflame, or will it repeat the 'blink and you've missed it' releases of the earlier Monster Hunter Freedom games?

Read on for our thoughts below.


Like many gamers in the US, I've been both curious and excited for the Monster Hunter franchise ever since Monster Hunter Portable G2 became the must-have game for the PSP in Japan. Having spent a weekend with the demo, I'm still pretty curious about the full game, but my excitement for the game has changed a bit. And if you can't tell, while reading it, let me just tell you outright- I failed the easiest hunt many, many times before having any luck with this demo at all.

In case you're not familiar with the concept, in the Monster Hunter games the player takes on the role of a hunter, that is then typically tasked through the game's hub town to hunt and kill specific monsters per the quest at hand. After these quests, you're rewarded with the means to begin the process of upgrading your gear. Unfortunately none of this gameplay is featured in the demo, where you're limited to selecting one of 11 premade characters, each one specializing in a specific type of weapon configuration (Great Sword, Long Sword, Sword, Dual Blades, Hammer, Hunting Horn, Lance, Gun Lance, Light Bowgun, Heavy Bowgun, and Bow-) and dropped into your choice of one of three hunts, with an increase in difficulty between each.

The first thing that I really noticed about this demo is that it's pretty hard, even on the easiest hunt- while playing single-player it's entirely possible to spend a solid 20 minutes fighting a single target monster without defeating it. This does, of course, go much faster while playing with a group of up to four friends via Ad-Hoc wireless (including support for the PS3's Ad-Hoc Party feature.)

In addition, though the demo provides no guidance or instruction outside of a listing of controller functions, there seems to be a number of techniques integral to successful play that aren't obvious in their design or controller command; a good example of this might be a rolling ability that is initiated with the X button- initially I'd thought that this was a move used to dodge attacks from enemies, but after a bit of research I discovered that it's actually meant to be used to pass through attacks of for enemies so as to cleanly strike them while they're still in their attack animations. I also found myself occasionally frustrated by the very context-specific usage of nearly every button on the PSP- though this was alleviated through practice, it was initially very difficult to coordinate which button did what depending on whether I was standing still, walking, or had my weapon at the ready.

I must say, while it might sound like I didn't enjoy my time with the Monster Hunter Freedom UNITE demo, after playing through it several times, as well as researching Monster Hunter websites to get a better understanding of some of the more esoteric gameplay features, I did get a solid glimpse at what appears to be a ridiculously deep game based primarily on observation of the hunted monsters in question, study of their idle and attack patterns and a risk-reward based combat system in reaction to their behavior. At times the game felt not entirely like a slow-paced fighting game, sometimes going 10 seconds without and effort at attacking the enemy a single time, waiting for the right moment to do so, based on his animations. And while the game takes more time than I was expecting, I found it to be really rwarding when I did it right.

I don't really know that this demo was the best way for Capcom to put their foot forward for Monster Hunter Freedom UNITE in the US- it's obtuse, inaccessible and really requires gamers to WANT to learn it. But ultimately I came away looking forward to the opportunity to create a character and customize him through subtle and frequently tense battles in the game's lush, organic environments. I don't think this game will be for everyone, but if you're patient, you just might get quite a bit out of it.
[X-men] Cyclops was right

How I spent my weekend.

Yeah. It's obviously straight off of the camera, and it was our first take of the day. I'm still endlessly proud of it (and of myself for actually leaving the house for something that isn't work!) and I look forward to the film that it'll eventually be a part of. :)
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    Marilyn Manson - Running to the Edge of the World